Melbourne Knights and Northern Spirit shared the spoils in a one-one draw at Knights Park on Sunday.
But the game could have been won well into added time when Andy Vargas blasted over from six yards after being sent free, but delayed, awaiting a clearer opportunity when an earlier strike was the better option.
"He would have been the hero of the game," said Knights coach Vlado Vanis after the game, "but these things happen."
Northern Spirit's Irish import Ben Burgess held off a strong challenge from Knights' striker Joel Porter during a run from the half-way line to into the penalty-box, before unleashing a well-placed left-foot drive wide of Knights' goalkeeper Lupce Acevski three minutes after the break to open the scoring.
The goal was the young striker's sixth in the NSL during his one-year loan spell from English side Blackburn Rovers.
A few minutes later, Scott Thomas' shot hit the cross-bar when a second goal would likely have been enough to have won the match.
But Knights fought back and deservedly levelled within ten minutes after Joey Rajher's cross from the left was headed so powerfully onto the cross-bar by Adrian Cervinski that it rebounded to the edge of the penalty-area where Joel Porter lay in wait. Porter took on touch to control and set up a new angle, then crashed his shot high into the net with Spirit goalkeeper Paul Henderson well beaten.
The game had taken until the second period to come to life, with a strong wind and high temperatures making fluent and pacey football difficult.
Spirit player-coach Graham Arnold said, "I thought the first half was very ordinary from both teams. The wind was very strong, and we had trouble playing (the ball) out."
"I was a bit surprised they didn't push on to us a bit more."
"We started very well in the second-half and scored the goal. (But) we needed a second goal, it didn't come, (and in the end) we were lucky to hang on."
Vanis had a similar assessment. "Maybe if they scored a second, it would have killed the game, but at the end of the day it was a fair result."
Spirit had started out slightly the better, but it was Knights' forward Cervinski who had the best chance in the first half after a rapier-like move begun when Andy Vargas robbed Robert Enes mid-pitch then sent a diagonal ball wide to Porter who had made ground down the left. Porter took the ball to the bye-line before crossing to the near-post where Cervinski's header just flashed by the upright.
Spirit goalkeeper Henderson needed to defend facing a strong wind, which midway through the half caused him to be caught in two minds from which Nastevski nearly took advantage. Joey Rajher had sent in a cross from the left which swung in the wind. Henderson came, then decided to remain, leaving Nastevski ghosting in at speed on the right, but his shot on the stretch was wide.
Neither coach claimed joy at the result, with both believing the game was there to be won.
"We came here to win the game," said Arnold. "I was disappointed with the performance of three or four of our high-profile players who didn't work. "They weren't moving, they didn't want the ball. They were totally off today."
Arnold declined to name names publicly. "I'll name them in the dressing-room tomorrow," he said ominously.
One player who will be exempt is Burgess. "I though Ben worked his arse off first half," said Arnold. "(In the second half) the service to him was better," perhaps indicating his Monday ire would be directed towards the Spirit midfield.
"I thought we could win this game," said Vanis, despite having to make a last minute change to his squad with the withdrawal of Angolan Toto Da Costa, suffering the effects of a virus. "(Spirit's) first shot on goal was a goal."
"It was unbelievable. (Burgess) was alone amongst five or six players, and he was (allowed) to carry the ball to the edge of the penalty-area, take a shot and score."
"I couldn't see where my defenders were. No-one covered."
With Vanis a noted defender during his playing career, you can bet this will be an area worked on over the next few training sessions.